Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Wee Bookworm nibbles the Big Apple

I have been spending this week in New York City and have made a few observations that I would like to share.  I have met up with a couple of friends whom I met in England and are now in NYC - it has been great to spend time with people who are new to the States as well and get their perspective on certain issues I have been having since arriving here such as the day and the month being the 'wrong' way round, teabags coming single wrapped, turn right on red etc.

I paid a visit to the New York Public Library (not just because of its use in Sex and the City) and it struck me as a very peaceful place to work despite the rows and rows of users.  It was amazing to find such a haven of learning in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the city.

A tad of an illegal photo

There was an exhibition on the 100th anniversary of the library, which was an opportunity to see some of the treasures of the library, many of which were clothing or non-book items.  This surprised my companion and I am not entirely sure why so many of the exhibits were non-book related, perhaps the curators felt that these would be more immediately appealing to the masses visiting.  Among the many leaflets available to visitors, such as guides to free programs for children, teens and adults there was a 'Professional Examination for Promotion to Grade 3 1953 Assistant Branch Librarian' - basically an entrance exam for the 1953 assistant librarian.  This has made for interesting reading.  Not only did the candidates need to be able to match 20 names to their positions in the NYPL system but also be able to comment on given titles and discuss the author's point of view and the general locale.  There are also questions concerning changes that the candidates may wish to see in the service, advice they would provide recent library school graduates and evaluation of certain of the library services.

Now, when I picked this up I was expecting to read an outdated mode of selecting staff and was fully ready to scoff at it.  I stand corrected.  Much has changed in the profession but the fundamentals of what makes a good librarian remains the same and this came as a reassuring fact for me (especially as I consider where I am going after Syracuse and am concerned that I am only really qualified to work in American libraries).  Recently I have been pretty annoyed at the library stereotypes still being pushed in society such as on the Literary Gifts website which is normally brilliant but does sell items such as these:

Hmm (and, if you know me or Charlotte, then you'll know that this is false)

Another one was in one of the Macy's windows on 34th street - I initially got very excited (as I am sure some of you do when you see librarians in popular culture) but then realised how wrong it was:

It is a bit hard to see but basically there is a librarian with a pencil in her hair, blouse buttoned to the neck, tweed skirt, surrounded by only books on a ladder, which actually rotates round the shelves (I grant you, I do wish I got to do that).  This does make for a nice window and is part of a Christmas story acted out in several windows but it goes to show that there is a lot of work still to be done if librarians are going to break their mould.  We are not being lent much help from those outwith our profession and this week has only served to show me that the stereotype is far from going away.

I also visited Brooklyn public library, which again was jammed packed with users and has a very busy community calendar with all kinds of events.  One that caught my eye was the graphic novel adult book club, which I had never heard of but is a great way to get a different set of adults involved in library book groups.  The library itself was looking a but worse for wear but had plenty of positives going for it. 

Also, you can buy items such as these:

I would buy these if they had one for my library!
One thing that has really stood out to me in NYC has been the music that is playing everywhere. Wherever possible there is music, live or recorded.  Walking along the street there is music blaring out of the fronts of shops, in the subway, accompanying the windows at Macy's, on the stalls etc.  It is actually very pleasant.  This reminded me of a comment made at NYLA where one of the talks mentioned music playing in the foyer of a library in Europe.  This was a surprise hit and didn't interfere with quiet study space elsewhere since it was only played at the issue desk.  I have found a musical society pretty spirit-lifting (and I am a very unmusical person).

So, these are a few of the thoughts that have occurred to me as I wandered around New York.  Apologies that they are not more profound but, frankly, how could they be when there are sights such as these to behold:

The Blue One

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